CHRIS BOWDEN. Slightly Askew. Ninja Tune. ZEN67

Only 4 tracks adorn this album, so no quick fire tunes to appease the listeners with an attention span of less than your average three minutes. Bowden has amassed a collection of 17 musicians, including himself to explore a jazzy world that few would dare to enter. He plays the alto sax and few exemptions are made for modern electronics, although Jim Watson does play the keyboards. Don't think that this would please the died in the wool jazz aficionado as the string section includes Violins, viola and cello, instruments not normally associated with this style of music. There are also vocal samples intermingled on the opening track, Only Angst, and these only appear towards the end of the track. The next piece entitled Crockers And Killers has a mellowed aspect and is therefore much more accessible. With the slightly husky voice of Liz Parkes to add vibrancy to the music, which changes substantially throughout, the piano takes the lead after about quarter of an hour has elapsed. Bowden is given the chance to show off his sax playing on Zoo Zoo. It's not a rambling affair as this is a tightly structured piece. Even the finale Wip De F In Doo will keep you on your toes. Yet another diverse release for the label, it won't please everyone, but those willing to listen will find much to applaud. (Brooky)

HOWIE B. Frabiclive 05. Fabric. Frabic10.
A lot of these mixed CD strive for a constant beat throughout. Howie B's approach is somewhat different in that he has placed together a much wider range of music for the fifth instalment in this series. Can you imagine Blame, Garbage, the Dope Smugglaz and Prince Far I all contributing to what must surely be one of the most eclectic mixes to be heard. There are of course house classics such as Daydream In Blue by I Monster and great dance tunes including Donuts And Coffee by Bombing F. The main area of interest is the way each track flows from one to another and the subtle way that Howie B has achieved this without the use of a constant beat. I have already mentioned Garbage by name, but not song title and Cherry Lips could almost have been especially written for this set. I had forgotten just how good the reggae/dub music of Prince Far I is and his Foundation Stepper completes a collection of a dozen songs that will ensure acceptability for most. One of the best. (Pb)

VARIOUS. Urban Renewal Program. Ninja Tune. ZENCD72
With the commencement of vocal samples from what appears to be a hip-hop radio show, the mind is not sure what's going on, but rest assured the music by Prefuse 73 appears which although not from the standard catalogue, is certainly inventive and at times easily recognised as such. Hard hip-hop care of Aesop Rock hits the speakers with attitude. Normally the backing track is of minimal proportions and of little interest to the music critic, but on Train Buffer it is as important as the lyrics. One of the most impressive aspects of this CD is that the music is actually memorable, admittedly the music is not all that complex, but the temptation is to keep humming these basic riffs. It is also quite diverse in particular on RJD2's True Confessions, where a mixture of orchestral rock is interspersed with scratches. The Short Interlude by Via Tania is very beguiling but alas it doesn't even last a minute. Tortoise could never be described as making hip-hop yet their G.T.A makes a contrasting appearance with a bass heavy instrumental made from traditional rock music instruments without the rock attitude. I just adore Our Solstice Walk by Caural in which the listener is invited to go on a down tempo stroll through some marvellous aural scenes. The finale by Themselves must be heard, as the harmonisation on an incredibly catchy tune will haunt you for a long time. At first, I thought that this program would be rejected as I am not really excited by this style, but against the odds, Ninja Tune has a new convert. Time for your conversion! (Brooky)

IAN BODDY. Aurora. DiN. DIN12
Once again, the serious electronic music fanatics get their chance to obtain the latest release from this fine label. It's been a long time since Boddy's last studio based album, but was the 3-year wait really worth it. I believe so, as during the 67-min, you get the distinct impression that here is a musician completely in charge of the musical hardware. Just because he likes the sound of analogue synths does not mean that these six tracks should be confined to a museum, rather they are at the cutting edge of composition. The territory explored is at times very revealing and naturally complex and it continues to amaze me how it remains within the normal semblance of what music is all about. You have to listen quite intensely if you wish to obtain maximum enjoyment, but all good music is like that. The tracks weave a path through light and dark, abrasive and mellowed or just plain stark and relaxed. There must be at least a part of this that suits every mood. I particularly like the start to Ecliptic where the notes rise and fall in scale to obtain that sometimes-elusive harmony. The bass notes are so low that this could make it one of the ultimate chill-out tracks. The third instalment Vox Luminia certainly benefits from a large adjustment to the volume - the louder the better. On Zero-G, Boddy reverts to pure ambient in which the aural textures are explored in fine details and the overseer is given ample time to absorb the slow moving changes. I could go on but the editor will soon run out of space, you had better not run out space in your music library for this superb CD. (Brooky)

VARIOUS. Laboratory Series Volume Two. Planetsounds PLAN005.
As it says on the tin, this is volume two! The sleeve credits are a lot easier to follow than on Vol. 1, so we're okay so far... 14 tracks, quite a few I've heard of as well: Bess Keloid, Illumnati, Mark Pilkington, Telefunken and Triclops. Planetsounds is from a small, yet impressively gorgeous sub genre of labels specialising in electronic improvised soundscapes that are ambrosia for the imagination. The album kicks off with Villa 21's Wu Preface, shit title, but rich in dark matter, lurking danger and suffocating tension. Telefunken's I Am Dead is (with a title like that) surprisingly light and dare I say raises the mood slightly, that is, until the track kicks off and chaos ensues. Full of blips, echoing beeps and white noise fracturing into the back brain - that is until it reverts to a familiar theme, and then.... Mild Man Jan is an excursion into a long metal tunnel (about three hundred miles long). There he does strange things with even stranger objects. The Pilkington track isn't a fave of mine, basically sounding like six minutes of drum and vocal samples. Andi Chapple, well it would be enough to say there are definite Echoes of Beefheart here! Illuminati's 1936 is a frenzied attack on the high notes, with a throbbing beat that sustains throughout - rather like this one. I'm not even half way through here, and even with the Pilkington track not being a fave, I still like what I'm hearing. I won't go into any more detail about the rest 'cos I ain't got the room, but what I will say is check out the link, and get your arse into gear and get with it. Needless to say, the rest of the album is as diverse and challenging (and ultimately rewarding) for anyone with a jaded ear full of rock wax and chart discharge. (Dw)

SUSUMU YOKOTA. The Boy And The Tree. Leaf. BAY25CD
His last album the Grinning Cat won critical acclaim in the eletronica field and his latest release can only enhance his reputation as one of the most influential Japanese artists. Each track fills the ears with a bizarre range of ambient sounds from across the globe. Expect to hear Eastern style instrumentation with lead electric guitar all perfectly formed to make the opening piece The Colour Of Pomegranates of particular interest to devotees of this genre. Red Swan places soprano soaring voices with Tibetan style percussion in a heady mix yet this is no mismatch of styles. The following simplistic riff could be aimed at those under fives, but grows quite rapidly into a delightful adult instrumental Threads Leads To Heaven that gets pleasantly stuck in the mind. I don't expect MOR fans to find any comfort in these dozen abstract collages, but those putting prejudices aside will soon appreciate the many musical levels expressed within the sounds. I suppose its a roundabout way of saying that it takes time to fully appreciate the work of any masterpiece and Yokota has created another one. (Philly)

KOMPUTER. Market Led. Mute. CDSTUMM165
Weird sounds looped into a rhythmical pattern with slowly developing changes. That is the sound that introduces the listener to the world of Komputer music as displayed on the opening piece Gaps. On first hearing it all sounds a little too similar and I could so easily have dismissed it, if my mind was distracted or doing something else whilst the music was playing in the distance. This is no background musak, neither is it at the other end of the scale in which intense musical notations are fired relentlessly. The second track Stringer commences with a dull beat with little else and then suddenly a quirky main theme develops, which allows plenty of space for other riffs and assorted noises to enhance the musical plot. It ends up as being one of the highlights of the album. Things then improve with the truly excellent Mum in which mellowed tunes lull the mind towards tranquillity. The much more abrasive Kompaktor follows and this could easily persuade your nerves to be set on edge. Another quieter reflective period is encapsulated in Joanna where a repetitive melody is subtly modified throughout the track thereby allowing all the other musical patterns to establish themselves. It very good by anyone's standards. The finale Chirpy is the most curious of tracks ranging from minimalism to infectious passages and it has my vote of being the best of a very good bunch. Everyone should be into Komputer's these days! (Philly)

ARTURO STALTERI. coolAugustMoon. Materiali Sonori/Network Records NXCA 00022.
Not really sure what's happened here, but a while ago we had this cracking album and gave it a great review, simply because it is a superb album. It arrived the other day with three bonus tracks: Moonscape #3, Before And After Science, and Stregatto, around eleven minutes extra time. If anything, these bonus tracks with this album make it a bit like winning the lottery, and then winning the pools. Eighteen tracks in all, and each one a beautiful interpretation of Brian Eno's music. Some of the tracks will be familiar to many Eno fans, such as Sparrowfall (all three), Julie With..., An Ending (Ascent), St Elmo's Fire, Another Green World and Here Come The Warm Jets. Alongside Stalteri there's assistance from violins, cellos, bassoon and percussion. I 'think' this album is maybe the Japanese version? The reason I suspect this is because the whole of the booklet is, I think, written in Japanese! The press release says nothing about the bonus tracks, so if you were or are considering getting this peach of an album, it's worth trying to get this 'updated' version. Basically, this album is nothing short of genius. (Dw)

FUNKI PORCINI. Fast Asleep. Ninja Tune. ZENCD57
A CD and a VDV (interactive DVD for those non-technocrats) of ambient style melodies that slips so easily into the mind and provides the musical equivalent of a cosy night in. That is no reflection on the quality as it is as high as ever, but it just seems to be a natural comparison. The warmth generated by these fourteen pieces exhumes a certain laid back production that is neither bland nor lacking direction. James Braddell has assembled a grand collection of tracks that neatly fits together and with vocal interpretations interspersed; the listener can simply flop into the most comfy of seats to complete the experience. Its not all-ambient music as Megatons is distinctly lounge jazz where the tempo level stays well below fever pitch and yet the excitement is still to be grasped. This is an absolutely gorgeous offering from Braddell. The following track Tokyosaka Train has much more of a beat with station announcements and then changes into a very quiet ambient section before the jet noise takes over. Probably one of the more unusual titles is Terminal C3 UK, where slightly strange voices almost take over the proceedings. It's all back to glory with Weow, in which a great beat allows lots of space for catchy riffs and rich melodies to pervade the sound arena. This is one of those albums that really grow on the listener. I can guarantee that by the third instalment, you'll be hooked. If not then you must be deaf! (Brooky)

DAVID BOWIE. Heathen. Columbia.
Seems ironic that within the same month (almost) we get the 30th Anniversary Edition of Ziggy, and his new one, Heathen. Obviously, I aren't going to compare (mainly 'cos I daren't!). One thing is for sure, though, and that this new album is a belter. I remember hearing Steve Wright on Radio Two saying the other week that the new single was like Bowie doing an impression of Bowie. At the time I though, eh? But after giving the album plenty of time I realise what he meant. What I especially enjoyed about Heathen was that every track has something else going on, a subtle underscore, little sublime melodies or hooklines that aren't that obvious. Quite a lot of the songs are over four minutes, and pass in no time - I know a couple of Bowie fans who've welcomed this album with open arms saying it's one of the best he's done in a long time. I have enjoyed albums like Earthling, and Hours, and Heathen is a twelve track classic. Hell knows how he's done it, but I'm simply amazed how the man can still deliver the goods. Super. (Dw)

VARIOUS. Trees Like Torches. Electronic Musik.
This is the second compilation from the ever inventive EM label. Seven lengthy tracks of such diverse and challenging electronic soundscapes that push the barriers further. The first track by Daniel Weaver, is called Hated Nightfall. It's a dark and menacing piece that builds ever so slowly with something that can only be described as an offbeat that is constantly awash with sfx. It's actually, at times, quite soothing and relaxing. John Kannenberg's Submersible commences with a drone, which eventually becomes engrossed and argues with other drones until strange blips enwtine themselves into the matrix. Vivahead's Seduction would, for me, have benefited without that annoying voice sample which, after a few times, gets right on the tits, that apart, it could have been a great piece. Eddie Prevost's Remembering III is more or less improv for cello and percussion - interesting for the single fact that it isn't electronics as such, maybe eleven minutes is a tad overlong for me. JM Pinto's On:Off is guitar improv this time, sounding ever so Fred Frith. Never been too sure on guitar improv, a guitar is a guitar is a guitar. Walter Cianciusi's Sovraprosizione is (and all credit to EM) stretching the limits of what you'd class as electronic musik! It's a trumpet improv with a variety of other 'classical' or jazz instruments such as bass, percussion, and strings. This track wouldn't be out of place on the Emanem (the label, not the artist) label. Paul Burwell and LDT's Angle Repoise is more what I like - electronic soundscapes with percussion, hell, there's allsorts on here. This tracks seems organic, natural and evolves beautifully. All in all an interesting and hellishly diverse compilation. (Dw)

NON. Children Of The Black Sun. Mute cdstumm213
To the un-enlightened, Non is the name of one of the many projects of Boyd Rice, an extaordinary American, who as far back as 1975 made experimental recordings utilising turntables, loops and processed 'walls of sound'. Also known as a lover of all things kitsch, an arch prankster, 60s girl group expert, dark humourist and not to mention his role within the Church Of Satan, he often returns to his long standing Non vehicle. Early Non works were centered around his theory of the listener being 'sculpted' into submission to the sonic intensity, Rice himself calling these early recording and live performances- "de-indoctrination rites". So here we are 25 years later and "Children Of The Black Sun" comprises seven tracks or should I say sections as they all flow into each other with deft precision which makes this one of the best albums I've heard in the past five years and a more polished production than his previous 'God and Beast' and 'Receive the Flame' releases. Rich gnostic themes are are spun out, aided by Albin Julius (Violin) and frequent collaborator Joel Haertling (Horns), Boyd Rice has surely reached a new level of creation in his recording history. Cavernous drones fill the air utilising the space without suffocating it and these tracks wipe away the usual tag of 'dark ambient' and can be described more akin to 'Penderecki in the underworld'!. The "special edition" comes with an aural only DVD disc(5.1 mix) which is in the surreal 'surround sound' mode- looks like lots of recordings will be heading that way soon! Anyone with a passion for strong, cinematic soundworks will be more than pleased with this fantastic release. VERY RECOMMENDED. (Jim Tones).

CARYA AMARA. Tales Of The Unattractive. Earthrid CA03CR.
Third album for CA, Tales brings us material from 1980 to 1991. Unlike a lot of artists, CA's first album was new stuff, the second was earlier, and this is even earlier! Because CA was kind of finding his feet back then, there's a lot of shorter tracks, semi-ideas that could well have been developed into longer pieces. As they stand, they make a good historical account of how this kind of music begins with influences, eventually taking on a life of their own. Also, the world of electronic soundscapes and keyboards wasn't as developed as it is now. Some of the tracks do sound like they were recorded in the early to mid 80s (which they were, but you know what I mean), but lest we forget, it's nothing like you perhaps might expect. Sure, certain synths were all there was back then, and many of these sounds can be heard on any number of 80s releases, it's what CA does with the sound that makes them different. 21 tracks in all, some from as long as 8 seconds, with a couple running to just over three minutes. CA's influences are certainly more evident here: Philip Glass, Kraftwerk, and several of the tracks make use of dance beats in an almost Aphex Twin style. Tales is hellishly varied, and would, to be honest, make a great starting point to test the waters. (Dw)

TANGERINE DREAM. Electronic Meditation & Alpha Centauri. Sanctuary CMRCD565 & 566.
Electronic Meditation was (album-wise) where it all started for TD. Way back in 1970 three chappies going by the name of Edgar Froese, Klaus Schulze and Conrad Schnitzler began experimenting with nothing more than noise, basically. Helping the band was a guy called Jimmy Jackson on organ. Seeing as though synths, as such, weren't really around then, the basic instrumentation was guitar, organ, piano, cello, violin and 'effects'. To be honest, I've never really been overly keen on the album although I can see why a lot of folk refer to it, and hold in high esteem - it was pretty groundbreaking and, well, different for its time. In fact it still is. Five tracks beginning with Genesis, then we get Journey Through A Burning Brain, Cold Smoke, Ashes To Ashes and finally Resurrection. It's been re-released in a tidy little slipcase, although there's no bonus tracks - there's just enough here as it is!
Alpha Centauri was their second album and, for me, is far better. The line up has changed, Schulze and Schnitzler have gone to pastures new, now we see Chris Franke and Steve Schroyder, as well as Udo Dennebourg and Roland Pualyck guesting. The original vinyl consisted of two tracks on side one, and the title track on side two. Okay, so this isn't the first time on cd, but I'm not sure if it's ever been released with the bonus of Ultima Thule Part 1, which was a single they released way back when. Worth a bob or two now, I guess? Alpha Centauri is a bit more structured, although even here the guys were improvising. Maybe it was the synths which are more in evidence, and the whole album works in a more ambient way than Meditation does. Like Meditation, Alpha is now resplendent with a charming little slip case, but, as I've said, an extra bonus track! Obviously the line up drastically changed the output of this album, and retrospectively, Alpha Centauri, for me, was the first true Tangerine Dream album: electronic improv rather than rock improv. Plenty will disagree, but we're all entitled to our opinions, well, we are at MD. (Dw)